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Optimizing Your Digestion

Dear Dr.Kim

I suffer from bloating and sluggish digestion. I have several trips planned for this summer and am wondering if you have any suggestions for helping to get my digestion on track?

P.K. Victoria


Dear P.K.

Thank you for your question. This is a common problem and I often caution to not accept common as “normal.” Travel can compound this predicament as when you are off your routine, varied nutrition, changes in fluid intake, and possible shifts in gastrointestinal microbiota (‘bugs’) can change the digestive milieu putting solid digestion on shaky ground. The good news is that there are several strategies you can deploy to move your digestive system in a happy direction.

One of my concerns with suboptimal digestion is that it presents a double compromise with broad impact. The digestive symptoms would suggest that there is healing that is needed – and healing body tissue requires nutrients. Yet, when digestion is amuck then I would consider that absorption can be compromised and therefore nutrient status may be lower than expected. So, needs are higher but absorption is likely lower. Further, when there are symptoms of gas or bloating or digestive discomfort then there will be inflammation. Bodily inflammation is a common compromise to health and so improving this pool of inflammatory mediators by sorting out digestion can be a real boon for overall wellbeing.

The digestive tract is host to millions of microbes –including good bacteria, putrefactive (or non-beneficial) bacteria and yeast. The ‘bug’ environment is dynamic and responds to stressors, hormone levels and the foods you eat. Most microbes in the digestive tract feed on carbohydrates, releasing gas as a byproduct resulting in symptoms of bloating and discomfort.

Limiting sugar intake and moderating grains can provide some benefit in reducing gas and bloating as it reduces a fuel source for the microbes. Choosing alternate grains such as gluten-free (rice, oats, millet) or “ancient grains” (spelt, kamut) can produce some change. Also, removing dairy will make a difference in many people. The tricky parts of dairy can be the milk sugar, lactose, or the dairy proteins, casein and whey. Many times I have heard people say Naturopaths always say wheat and dairy are a problem. It is partly mathematics in that North American nutrition, especially when I first started practicing, is mostly centred on wheat and dairy. Some foods are known to be more common for causing trouble –wheat and dairy are in this list -and then the more frequently you put the same thing down the digestive tract then the higher probability you will have of having problems to those items. Having a balance of food sources and nutrients is important and so look at your habits and consider what change is best suited for you. Continue to enjoy a healthy daily intake of vegetables and fruits to keep your fibre and fluids supported. Keep in mind that cooked vegetables can be easier to digest then raw so even though it is summer, you might choose vegetables soups over salad.